Jeff Segal Finishes Sixth in No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT at New Jersey Motorsports Park to stay alive in 2011 GT Championship Chase
Reigning GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT Champion Jeff Segal led 17 laps in the late stages of Sunday’s American Red Cross 250 at New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP) but ultimately joined co-champion teammate Emil Assentato and the No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT team in locking down some solid points for this year’s title chase with a sixth-place finish rather than a risky gamble on a possible race win.
After taking over from starting driver Assentato, who turned in a solid hour-long stint in brutally hot conditions, Segal worked his way to the front with little over 30 minutes remaining in the timed 2-3/4-hour race on NJMP’s 2.25-mile Thunderbolt Raceway. While the No. 69 FXDD team’s first victory of the season appeared imminent, relinquishing the lead for a precautionary pit stop in the closing stages of the race could prove to be pivotal in their GT title defense this season.
“Our decision to pit from the lead was two-fold, and I don't think it would have changed the outcome significantly if we had stayed out,” Segal said. “We had been suffering from a fuel pickup problem throughout the race, and the car would start to starve for fuel with a few gallons still left in the tank. We were a little concerned about that as we got closer to the end of the race, and thinking we might continue to suffer from this problem.”
Segal was also in dire need of a fresh set of Continental tires for the dash to the finish.
“We were also on really old tires at that point, and I had worked hard to keep the 70 behind me, so I didn't have much tire left,” Segal said. “We decided to pit, hoping to come back through the field. Ultimately, the pace on new tires was enough to come through and catch back up to the leaders, but not enough to pass them. It was a shame, but we still had a good points day.”
The No. 69’s final pit stop gave the lead to their No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda teammates who went on to take the victory, anchoring a top-three sweep of the podium by Mazda RX-8 GTs for the first time since last year’s New Jersey race. It was also the first time the No. 69 team has not been part of a winning Mazda RX-8 GT sweep in GRAND-AM Rolex Series GT competition, but the late-race decision helped Segal move closer to a top-three position in the 2011 GT championship with just three races remaining on this year’s schedule.
The No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT team, and Segal and Assentato, now have 228 points at fourth place in both the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT Team and Driver Championships. Although Segal and his teammates didn’t improve a championship position for the first time in three races, the overall battle tightened considerably at New Jersey when the class-leading No. 59 Brumos Porsche finished well down in the standings. Segal and his teammates came into New Jersey 19 points out of first and four points behind third place, but they are now just 13 markers from the lead and just one point shy of third.
Just finishing the American Red Cross 250 at all was an achievement for any team. The recent heatwave that plagued the Eastern U.S. through Sunday didn’t spare New Jersey, where high humidity and temperatures hitting 100 degrees earlier in the weekend made the American Red Cross 250 one of the most difficult races in recent memory.
“The race was brutal,” Segal said. “The conditions in the car were really tough, and our game plan was really just survival first. Emil did a great job to persevere in the heat and drive a full fuel stint, and that made my job more manageable by getting me closer to the end. That said, I spent an hour and 45 minutes in the car, and that's tough in these conditions.”
Segal, who is a native of the nearby Philadelphia, considers the NJMP facility one of his home tracks and for awhile it looked like he might take his first major win there in Sunday’s race.
“We had really good pit strategy initially, and as a result we were able to vault to the front when I got in the car,” said Segal, who was the last driver to lead before the No. 70 took the point for good. “We stayed there for quite some time, and things were looking good. At one point, the 70 car came out of the pits behind me on new tires and started to close in, so I was under a lot of pressure from him since I was on older tires. We held him off for quite a long time, which was surprising to me, but then the last yellow came out.”
Next up for Segal and the No. 69 FXDD Mazda team is the Watkins Glen 200, August 12 – 13, on the NASCAR short course at Watkins Glen International. The race can be seen live on SPEED at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT.
“Now, on to The Glen, and I'm excited about getting back there and finishing the season strong,” Segal said. “The three remaining tracks are places that I like a lot, and I'm confident that we can continue to make ground on the points leaders. The team has continued to work really hard to get our car into this championship fight, and I'm looking forward to a really exciting race at Watkins Glen!”
By: jeff segal racing